The county commissioners have made frequent pitches for Carroll County residents to support local restaurants, with President Stephen Wantz on Thursday calling for diners to brave the elements and eat outdoors.
Most dining at this point in the season, however, is done indoors, which has been identified as one of the more likely ways COVID-19 is transmitted. But data is difficult to come by. In addition to increased hospitalizations and deaths, another byproduct of the massive increase in cases since early November has been the scaling back of contact tracing.
“Since we hit this spike, we have had to cut back on the questions we are asking during contact tracing interviews, so we have less data than we used to,” said Maggie Kunz, health planner and Carroll County Health Department spokesperson, said via email Friday.
Later in the day, the health department released data reporting 42 new cases of COVID-19 in Carroll County, bringing this week’s total to 323 and showing that Carroll’s case rate per 100,000 in population jumped to 44.78, the highest it has ever been.
Last week, Carroll saw a new high with 409 cases. Prior to mid-November, the county had not seen more than 156 total cases in a week, a spike in part attributable to the colder weather forcing people indoors more. And also a spike that has taxed contact tracing resources.
According to the state website, “Due to recent increases in the volume of COVID-19 cases and contacts reported across the state, contact tracing is re-committing to its core mission of getting cases and contacts into isolation and quarantine, respectively. The covidLINK interview questionnaire has been temporarily revised to prioritize the collection of the critical information needed to most efficiently ensure the isolation of cases and quarantining of close contacts. As a result, questions related to high risk locations and large gatherings have been temporarily suspended.”
The data accumulated through Nov. 14, however, shows indoor dining as the third-most cited high-risk location that people went to in the 14 days before they got sick or tested positive. In the final week of the questionnaire, 38% of respondents, or 4,328 people, said they had been to one or more high-risk location in the two weeks prior, with 1,231 of them (28.8%) saying they had dined indoors at a restaurant or a bar.
People could choose more than one answer, Kunz noted, and this doesn’t necessarily mean they were infected at these locations. But it put them at a higher risk, statistically.
“Any activities where you are indoors, unmasked, and closer than 6 feet to people outside your household (even family members) for a prolonged period of time pose a higher risk for the spread of COVID,” according to the state’s website. “If you choose to eat indoors at a restaurant, it’s safest to go only with members of your own household, make sure the restaurant staff are wearing masks properly, wear your masks when not eating and drinking, and ensure you are seated more than 6 feet from anyone outside your household.”
Kunz and Wantz suggested alternatives.
“Personally, I think getting takeout from local restaurants is a great way to support local businesses and enjoy great food,” Kunz said via email. “But if people really want an indoor dining experience, they should realize it is a higher-risk activity and take the steps ... to lower their risk.”
During Thursday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, Wantz said we should be doing more outdoor dining, particularly as the temperatures rise bit next week.
“We’re a little soft here in America. In Europe, they dine outside all year long,” Wantz said, suggesting that diners bring blankets and cold-weather gear when eating out. “You can easily slice your steak or eat your cheeseburger with gloves on.”
Among the 42 new cases announced Friday, five were congregate facility cases — two residents at Brinton Woods, a resident at Longview and two cases at Central Maryland Correctional Facility. According to the health department, 11 facilities are sites of active outbreaks, not counting the correctional facility.
The other 37 cases are among members of the wider community. This week has seen 282 community cases with one day remaining. That’s in line with the past four weeks that have netted 298, 248, 343, and 321 community cases.
Carroll’s positivity rate, reported as a seven-day rolling average, jumped to 8.65%, its highest point since June 1, through Thursday, the latest data available. Maryland’s rate came in at 7.77%.
Carroll’s total number of probable cases since the beginning of the pandemic increased by 23 to 583. The probable cases stem from Carroll countians who tested positive using a rapid antigen test, rather than a molecular test like those offered at state-run testing sites. The health department doesn’t consider these results to be confirmed cases.
Of the 3,478 community members who have tested positive in Carroll, 112 are younger than 10 years old; 386 are in the 10-19 range; 655 are 20-29 years old; 473 are 30-39; 496 are 40-49; 676 are 50-59; 408 are 60-69; 185 are 70-79; 77 are 80-89; and 10 are in their 90s. Women have accounted for 1,803 of the positive tests and men for 1,675 (one case is listed as an undetermined gender).
Of Carroll’s 4,411 total COVID-19 cases, Westminster has seen the most cases with 1,507 across two ZIP codes, followed by Sykesville/Eldersburg with 1,138, Mount Airy with 383, Manchester with 312, Hampstead with 286, Taneytown with 236, Finksburg with 224, New Windsor with 100, Marriottsville with 67, Woodbine with 65, and Union Bridge and Keymar with 41. Data is not released in ZIP codes with seven cases or fewer.
Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call the hotline between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 410-876-4848, or contact their doctor. After hours, callers may leave a message or call 211. People with emergencies should continue to call 911.